I got to win the horse lottery last night. Beat that 1 in a million odd. Because if there’s any absolute truth in this world, it is that owning and raising horses is full of up’s and down’s, with the down’s heavily out weighing the up’s. And it’s rare enough to watch a horse come full circle in the most normal of situations. It’s even rarer when you get to be a part of every single major moment of that horses life. But the rarest of all is when you’re told that a horse most likely won’t survive, that it doesn’t have a good chance at life, and you work day-in and day-out to fight those odds. And you win.
I finally got to experience the rarest of rare. I won the lottery.
Hit Girl is one of “mine”. In the horse business, “one of mine” rarely means actual ownership. It usually means a yearling that I prepped for the sale, or a foal that I delivered and raised until it was weaned. For those of us on the farm, we will rarely get to own these majestic creatures-but they are ours nonetheless. We know their ins and outs, the whorls that line their heads, and the quirks that complicate their days. We know which one hates pellets, which one doesn’t like its left hock being touched, and which one likes a snaffle more than a chain. They are all treated with love and respect, but each is unique. And some are just different. Some stand out. All are “ours”, but few are truly special.
Hit Girl was one of those. She was, and is, special. At least to her breeders, and now owners. And to me. She might not be Rachel Alexandra, or Zenyatta. She might not have a Facebook page with 10,000 likes. She never won a stakes race, and her name won’t adorn a street sign in Lexington. But to me, she is special. I was there when she was born, I was there when she took her first gallop around a paddock, and I was there when the surgeons told us that she probably wouldn’t make it.
As so many horses do, with no negligence from any humans part, Hit Girl got hurt. To this day we do not know what exactly happened. Some of us think she tripped and fell. Some of us think she got cast in a paddock fence. Others think that she was kicked by a pasture mate. But what we all can agree on, is that she had the largest hematoma that we had ever seen. At its largest, it went from mid neck to mid barrel, and shoulder point to shoulder point. We estimated that it contained 50-75 pounds of blood. Numerous surgeons came and they all said the same thing. Leave it alone. It is still growing. The blood source has not shut off. If we lance it, she will probably die.
I would stare at them with dismay and ask “but what about when it opens on its own?” They all just grimaced.
But it did open on its own, and she did live.
Through the use of both allopathic and homeopathic medicine, amazing veterinarians, and a superb farm staff, she survived. It took moments of ingenuity, moments of bravery, moments of terror, and moments of extreme heart. The same heart that dictated the rest of Hit Girl’s life.
I was told quite a few times throughout the recovery that it might not end well. That although we might have gotten over the hardest part, the outcome still wasn’t great. That there was still an extreme risk of infection. That she most likely would never be ridden, and that she probably would never race. We would be lucky if she was just pasture sound. We would be luckier if she could carry a foal.
But Hit Girl had other ideas. She checked off each of those boxes as if it was her personal Bucket List. Broke – check. Race – check. Win – check. And she did more than just win, she won at one of the most esteemed tracks in the nation, Keeneland. Twice – check, check. She traveled the country, running both on the East Coast and the West. She got claimed from her breeder, but he fought back. I thought I had lost her during that time, but was yet again amazed at the heart of this race industry when I reached out to her new connections. They loved hearing of her story, and treated me as if I was a partner. But still, nothing made me happier than getting the phone call from Anne Archer Hinkle letting me know they got her back.
Being a part of the Hinkle family has been on of the best experiences of my life. I was just one of their managers. I only worked there for a few years. But to this day, they treat me as part of their team. So with every special moment in Hit Girls life, my phone would ring. Letting me know they had chosen a stallion, letting me know that she was ready to breed. Informing me that she was in fact pregnant, and then last but not least, letting me know last night that she was ready to foal.
I flew to the farm anxious to see what her foal would be like. Would it have the same flashy looks? Would it have the same veracity for life? But more importantly, I prayed for only one thing – that it had the same heart. The same ability to overcome. The same strength to beat the odds. To look the greatest veterinary minds of our lifetime in the eye, and say “you’re wrong.”
It was a filly. Red just like her mother. With flashy white socks and a big white blaze. But the similarities didn’t end there. She came out swinging. Ready to take on the world. I have never been emotional at a foaling, constantly thinking of the science and the motions more than the beauty-but for this one, I got a little choked up.
Hit Girl was never “mine”, my name was not and will never be on her papers. But she is mine in heart. In tears. In sweat, and blood. And she defines everything that is great in our industry-a world that is so often misunderstood from the outside. She was brought into this world with careful thought and plan. She was saved from death with ingenuity and intelligence. She was trained to be raced with knowledge and patience. And then she was brought home to where she was born to pass on all of this to her daughter with love.
It is like reading a good book. And just like a good book, you turn the pages, both anxious and afraid of what will happen to the characters that you have come to love. You crave to get to the ending, but feel a sense of loss when you get there.
But with horse racing, it never really ends.
That is what makes me love this industry. Because while so many feel as though their lives end when they leave the race track, I now know that that period of time was just Chapters 6-12. While so many never see Chapters 1-5 play out, they are just as important. It begins even before we get their mothers to conceive. It begins as the previous generation runs and we begin to see them as future sires. Planning the matings, dreaming of producing the best in the world. It goes on into a safe delivery, first steps, first drinks of liquid gold. Teaching to lift hooves, and accept a bit. Watching legs streak over a field, and maintaining the fence that holds those legs in. We write these chapters, edited by the horses that play the characters.
And it certainly doesn’t end when they step off that track for the last time. Hit Girl’s story is not over. In fact, in my mind, at the age of 6, it has just begun. I can’t wait to see where this filly goes, as well as the (hopefully) many after her. Chapter 13 and on are just now playing out. Another chapter finished last night, and I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to skim through it.
I can’t wait to see how this story goes. I hope it is filled with roses and daisies, mint juleps and champagne, pewter and gold. I hope to see this filly grow up and come streaming down the homestretch at Keeneland, just like her mother, as I scream myself hoarse. More importantly, I hope this story is long.
And if you see a little blonde woman on the rail, with tears streaming down her cheeks as a flashy chestnut walks by, don’t judge her. If you see her wringing her hands and biting her nails, seemingly frantic, don’t worry. And if you see her reach for her phone and pull up a photo of another chestnut with a big blaze and a strong hip to show you, entertain her.
Because she has read the first few chapters. She has helped write many of them. And now, even as an outsider looking in, she is simply trying to read the rest of this story, one chapter at a time.